Lema Afzal always gets in a festive mood for Eid—the celebration to close the month-long sunrise-to-sunset fast for the Muslim holiday of Ramadan—thanks in large part to her outfit. The 25-year-old student, who has gone viral for wearing traditional Afghan garb, explains that it is customary to wear a new piece of clothing for the event. Afzal, who was born in Afghanistan and immigrated to Belgium from Kabul at four years old, chose to wear her traditional Afghan garb this year. “Usually people buy new clothes for Eid and try their best to dress up nicely because it’s a whole celebration,” says Afzal. “I went for a traditional Afghan outfit–one that I haven’t worn before–because it instantly puts me in a festive mood.
Afzal embraces her Afghan threads often, whether she’s dressing up for a holiday or infusing the pieces into her daily wardrobe. While she has been posting her traditional garments online since 2016, her colorful Instagrams went viral last October when the initiative #DontTouchMyClothes launched in response to the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan. Her Instagrams–and her strikingly bright clothes–are a glimpse into the diverse ethnicities that make up Afghanistan and their respective textiles. There are over 14 ethnicities in Afghanistan, including Pashtun, Hazara, Uzbek, Turkmen, and Tajik, and each has its own form of ethnic dress, which vary in beading and embroidery styles.
Her father’s side of the family are nomadic Kuchi people of the Pashtun ethnicity, and Afzal’s clothing mostly comes from them. They are most famous for their use of coins in clothing. For Eid, Afzal opts for a traditional coin necklace crafted out of tiered metal beads which descend into a layer of blue and red stones, and then a swathe of silver coins. Historically, women wore coins to ward off evil–the jingle would scare them–and ensure fertility.
As for the dress, it is layered with meaning. The velvet skirt is a vibrant violet with white thread embroidery on the hem. “The flowy skirt makes me want to twirl around all day. Eid is all about good vibes, and a colorful traditional Afghan outfit is the best choice in my opinion because of the vibrant colors and extravagance of the dresses,” she says. (Beneath her skirt, she wears a pair of emerald green pants). The upper portion is reminiscent of a stunning tile. While it appears from afar that the prints are painted on, they are actually finely threaded. “It is made by hand,” says Afzal. “It [the embroidery] is one of the things that Afghans specialize in.” Finally, Afzal wears a head-turning silk scarf around her shoulders, a piece that is traditionally for modesty. The final result? A stunning kaleidoscope of hues–and, of course, meaning.
Originally published in Vogue.com
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